Is the day of evangelism over? Why is “doing church” becoming so difficult?
The surrounding culture changed almost overnight. People went from apathy toward to gospel to antipathy. They don’t want what we offer.
What eats you when it comes to leading your congregation? Not enough leaders, or is it a lack of money? Ineffective disciplemaking or the near absence of evangelism? Whatever it is, it is a product of the culture you’ve embraced.
For several decades we coalesced around a faulty set of definitions, which, in turn, crafted an ineffective church culture. What do I mean by that? Well, we tossed the five leadership gifts Paul described into a single bucket labeled, “pastor.”
As I came up in ministry, the word apostle, was a non-starter. Billy Graham was the quintessential evangelist, and everything in a local church was led by a person called the pastor. But what if the successful churches where members invite friends to “hear my pastor,” are driven by true evangelists. This would explain their ability to rack up conversions in ways most of us can only envy. And suppose you function as a pastor/shepherd or a teacher, let alone a prophet? If this even approximates reality, you would be silly to emulate the evangelist down the street. Yet, that is what we’ve done.
I have news for you. Inviting people to a church program or to hear a great speaker is reserved for people with gifts that differ from most of us. COVID-19 proves this in many ways. While many churches lose members, the larger evangelistic enterprises snowball online. Might some of their growth include your former members? If you imitate others, you’re forced to compete with them. That is most often a losing proposition.
Your Culture is Your Source of Victory or of Frustration
So, let’s examine your church culture. Todd Wilson, wrote about this, at length, in a book called Spark: Igniting a Culture of Multiplication. The keyword is culture. Todd maintains that the three primary elements in culture are values, narratives and behaviors. I would toss vision and vocabulary into the mix, but you should still read his free eBook from Exponential.org. Todd writes with extreme clarity, and a book carries more weight than a short blog.
Todd maintains that any church culture is pregnant with its own set of tensions. The beauty of this is that you get to choose your problems as you define your culture. So recognize that your values, the stories you tell and the behavior you model the root of the tensions you face along with the victories you own.
Evangelism Through the Lens of Scripture
Let’s focus on evangelism because a recent survey showed many pastors struggling to find effective outreach tactics. What worked before doesn’t now! Back to those APEST gifts: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd (pastor) and teacher.
If I’m correct in thinking that mostly only evangelists will prevail in a “come to church to meet Jesus” model, then the rest of us ought to approach evangelism from a different angle.
In John 1:41-42, we find Andrew searching out his brother Simon to tell him about the messiah. Philip brought Nathaniel. So this is personal and relational, starting with immediate family.
Matthew 9 finds Jesus inviting Matthew to walk alongside him. Almost immediately, Matthew throws a party for his friends, which causes the uptight and religious to hurl accusations at Jesus for attending. Again, relationships are centerpoint. Please hang onto the walk alongside bit. It’s important.
Then notice Jesus casually hanging out with a woman of ill repute by the well in Samaria. Even his disciples don’t get this one. Again, this is relational (and bears fruit beyond the woman, just like Andrew, Philip and Matthew did). That woman is a “person of peace” that Jesus describes in Luke 10:10.
When we get to Acts, we find church meetings designed for equipping church people, while evangelism happened among the neighbors of those people. No attractional model when casual visits to church meetings were easier than in Iran today. The early Acts model approximates the functions described in Ephesians 4, where leadership gifts exist to equip ordinary folks for building up the body of Christ.
The Power of Intentional Friendship
We’ve come full circle in my argument. If you are not an evangelist or apostle, your best bet is to build a culture that develops people to the point that they can ask friends to “follow me as I follow Christ.” Remembering that you won’t find prayers to “invite Jesus into your heart” in the Bible. This is more a matter of hanging out until they want some of what you have. We need to equip our people to have something that others want and then teach them the power of walking alongside.
Jesus promised that we would be known as true disciples by our love. We can bridge the political and racial chasms in our country by more effectively training our people to get close enough to love those outside of Christ. This is salt in the earth stuff and so much easier than managing costly come to church programs.
I’m an introverted and horrible personal evangelist. My only hope as a pastor was through the “friendship evangelism” of our people. Our basic ecclesiology was born of a wedding between Acts 2:42-47 and Ephesians 4:10-13. We taught people to look for persons of peace and then walk with them until they decided to follow their friend into relationship with Jesus. Petty simple, but it worked. The follow-me factor moved people into and through our disciplemaking continuum – some all the way to planting churches.
Our values turned into the stories we told even while they were still developing. Those worked their way into effective behaviors. Lesson: Reexamine the culture you’ve built-in light of scripture and of your spiritual gifts as a leader.